What is Half and Half? And What’s a Substitute For It?

We all know where to get half and half: next to the cream and milk in the dairy aisle. But do you know what half and half actually is? Why it’s called half and half? Is there a substitute for half and half? It’s confusing! We untangle all the info for you.

August 24, 2021
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Prepairing iced latte on wooden table

Photo by: agrobacter/Getty Images

agrobacter/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

Half and half: you use it coffee, sometimes you need it in a recipe, you can use it to make ice cream and it makes a great custard when paired with eggs. But what is half and half? What is a good substitute for half and half when it’s not in the fridge? Read on to learn how to use it, how to make it and other fun facts about half and half.



Half filled with milk silicone baby bottles

Photo by: Mediaonela/Getty Images

Mediaonela/Getty Images

What Is Half and Half?

The actual description of what half and half is falls under the auspices of the FDA. Which makes sense, because Food is the first word in Food and Drug Administration, so all dairies that produce half and half must follow the guidelines. Half and half is simply a mixture of equal parts whole milk and cream. That’s it. If you wanted to go further down the half and half rabbit hole, you would learn that the percentage of fat in whole milk is only 3.25%. The percentage of fat in half and half varies between 10.5% and 18%. Why? Because cream can be 36% to 40% fat. When mixing the two together, you get a different percentage of fat depending on the cream you use. Anything labeled half and half at the store will be fine for any recipe you need it for.



Photo by: Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

What Is a Substitute for Half and Half?

Since we now know that half and half is equal parts milk and cream, we can make a substitute. Get a liquid measuring cup, fill it to the 1/2 cup line with whole milk and then add heavy cream to the 1 cup line. You just made a substitute for half and half.



Photo by: Wanwisa Hernandez / EyeEm/Getty Images

Wanwisa Hernandez / EyeEm/Getty Images

All About Half and Half

There are a lot of questions floating around about half and half. We have lots of answers.

Can half and half be used instead of heavy cream?

In a recipe for a custard, yes. If you’re looking for whipped cream to top a sundae, no: half and half doesn’t have enough fat to whip and hold peaks.

Can you boil half and half?

No: there isn’t enough fat for the mixture to stay homogenized, and you’ll end up with curdles. It’s best to add the half and half as the last ingredient when your soup or sauce is finished. Then heat it gradually to a simmer to ensure that the half and half doesn’t curdle.

Where did half and half come from?

There actually was a time when half and half wasn’t something you’d buy at the store. In fact, in the 1920s, half and half was a proprietary product of Boutwell Dairy in Lake Worth Beach, Florida. The owner, William A. Boutwell, invented half and half by mixing milk and cream. Eventually, it caught on, and other companies started making it. And the rest is history.

Half and Half Recipes 



Food Stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Leslie Siegel,Food Stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Leslie Siegel

Photo by: Kang Kim

Kang Kim

Fresh clams, bacon, potato - everything you want in a rich and creamy clam chowder where the creamy ingredient is half and half. This recipe uses exactly one pint, no measuring required. So much easier than mixing milk and cream.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

This isn’t just mac and cheese with sausage, it’s mac and cheese with sausage and peppers. Half and half, cream cheese and cheddar come together to make the creamiest sauce ever.

Strawberry Cobbler

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

We call this luscious dessert a cobbler, but the topping is really biscuits dropped over the top before it’s baked. And biscuit is just a not-very-fancy name for shortcake. So this could just as easily be called skillet strawberry shortcake.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

In truth, adding caramelized onions to just about any savory dish will make it better. Here they’re in a breakfast strata, or as it could be called, a savory bread pudding, since it has all the ingredients a bread pudding would have. Using sourdough bread ensures an even more savory dish.



Food Stylist: Stephana Bottom Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks

Photo by: Andrew Purcell Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Andrew Purcell Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Panna Cotta is an Italian chilled dairy dessert that’s always an elegant presentation. It’s not a pudding because it doesn’t have eggs and it isn’t cooked: Panna cotta sets with unflavored gelatin. This recipe combines half and half and buttermilk for creamy-tangy results. The fresh cherry compote is a perfect sweet topping, but you could always improvise with your favorite fruit.



Food Networks Kitchen’s Make-Ahead Green Bean Casserole for THANKSGIVING/BAKING/WEEKEND COOKING, as seen on Food Network.,Food Networks Kitchen’s Make-Ahead Green Bean Casserole for THANKSGIVING/BAKING/WEEKEND COOKING, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Who doesn’t love a classic casserole dish you can make ahead, especially when you’re having the entire extended family for a holiday dinner? This green bean casserole is made with only fresh ingredients. (OK, one from a can, because you can’t have green bean casserole without those fried onions.)

Baked Feta Mashed Potatoes

Photo by: Spoon Fork Bacon LLC

Spoon Fork Bacon LLC

These mashed potatoes are elevated with feta, half and half, butter and sour cream. Everything goes in the oven in a casserole so you can have all the burners on the stove free for the rest of your dinner.

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